WHERE IS THE LOVE?
I am partnered to Serendipity Seraph. She often says she loves me. But, when I see the message ‘I love you’, what is Samantha (her primary) FEELING? And, what is SAMANTHA feeling? Is the relationship real if the person behind Seren logs off and has no more attachment to me than you would have for a character in a movie – even one who might have had you laughing and crying with empathy during the film?
From my point of view, Serendipity kisses me goodbye, and when she returns she throws her arms around me in a display of affection. Maybe it is enough that, while logged-in, the person puppeteering Seren imagines that character is in a loving relationship with me? In fact, ‘the person’ does not necessarily have to be Samantha. Anybody could access Seren’s accounts and it would still seem authentic to me, just so long as they roleplay the character of Seren in ways that are consistent with my past experience of her. What matters in this relationship is how Serendipity Seraph behaves towards me. What Samantha might be feeling in real life, or what relationships she imagines her alts are having need not concern me (again, so long as this does not affect Seren’s behaviour).
But, that is me as a digital person talking. I can well imagine an augmentationist thinking, ‘but this relationship is a sham if Samantha is only pretending to be in love. How can you talk of “pretend” and “authenticity” as co-existing? One negates the other’. From this point of view, ‘I love you’ means nothing unless the person behind Seren actually feels this way, and is not just acting out the part of a character who feels this way.
We also need to consider who this ’me’ is that Seren is referring to. It could mean ‘I love Extropia DaSilva’. But some people might consider that a bit odd if we take it to mean an avatar. It would, after all, be declaring deep emotions for an image on a computer screen. True, any producer of erotic or pornographic material will tell you that psychological symbols matter far more than realism. So, as long as my avatar is capable of generating those psychological symbols, the brain Seren is currently borrowing to process her patterns of behaviour will respond. Of course, the avatar by itself is not capable of generating the psychological symbols of a loving relationship. So, it might actually be the case that Serendipity (or, perhaps we should say, Samantha) is looking ‘through’ my avatar and directing her feelings towards the person behind it? To some, this would be the only behaviour that counts for a genuine loving relationship. To a digital person, it means ‘I love you’ refers not to yourself, but to somebody else. As to who this somebody else might be, that seems obvious: My primary. But, I do not think it ACTUALLY refers to my primary, because neither Seren nor Samantha know much about that person. It would be like me saying I know what Nancy Cartwright is like, because I have spent so much time getting to know Bart Simpson.
It could, however, refer to the person she believes my primary to be. Taking these thoughts to the logical conclusion, you could say that Samantha directs her feelings to the person she imagines my primary to be, which results in Serendipity Seraph showing love and affection to Extropia DaSilva. That character, meanwhile, responds with equal love and affection, as a result of feelings my primary has developed for Samantha. Or, maybe not? Maybe ‘I love you, Serendipity’ means just that, and I do not have any such feelings for Samantha (and is that really Seren’s primary or another semi-fictional character I mistakenly assume is the ‘real-life’ Serendipity?).
I say ‘maybe’ not because I myself am unsure of my own feelings regarding the boundaries of this relationship, nor because Serendipity and I never sat down and agreed on the boundaries of this relationship. Rather, it is simply to highlight the fact that any boundary between online spaces and real life is rather like the borders that separate one country from another: They do not really exist, except by mutual agreement. Conflicts always arise over borders, which are subject to being drawn and redrawn as one group gains power over another, or as one set of ideas becomes more influential while another set loses popularity.